“Make for that black smoke in the sky – that’s Dunkirk…”
Escape from Catastrophe: 1940 Dunkirk
I was looking through a list of blog prompts and found one asking what event in history would I most like to visit. Now I could make a pretty long list of events I’d like to see with my own eyes (though I always prefer time periods with actual plumbing), but the event that popped in my mind first was the evacuation of Dunkirk early in World War II.
I did a lot of research for my WWII, time travel novel, Out of Time, and part of that research was studying the Dunkirk evacuation as a possible time frame for the novel. I ended up not using it, but it was so amazing, so inspiring I always wished I could found a way to use it in my novel.
“Time was meaningless – the incessant noise of war was never ending.”
I am not a brave person, so I have great admiration for those who not only face danger well, but run into danger to protect others. Dunkirk is one of the finest examples of sheer, bloody courage. In case you don’t know the story, let me recap.
In May, 1940, the the British Expeditionary Force and other Allies were trying to stop the advance of the Germans, but my mid-May those forces had over run Holland, Belgium and France, forcing them into retreat and trapping them on the beaches with the English Channel at their backs, facing death or imprisonment.
“I have seen the sea red with blood – it’s a sight I shall never forget.”
It seems that some foresaw this catastrophe and had crafted a plan, code name “Operation Dynamo,” to save as many men as humanly possible. The problem was the shallow draft of the beaches off Dunkirk that made it impossible for large navel boats to get close enough. Additionally, there was not enough time to evacuate such a large force using lifeboats from these ships while under attack. So the Ministry drafted small craft and men to pilot them, paying particular attention to pleasure boats, private yachts and launches. Their goal was to save at least 45,000 men.
“By the time we had 50 on board, I could feel her getting distinctly tender, so I took no more – actually we had 130 on board.”
These small boats–dubbed The Operation of the Little Ships–and under fire from land and air, plucked 338,000 British and French troops from certain capture and imprisonment. Those who know believe that the loss of these forces could have changed the outcome of the war.
“I did not see anyone panic or jump the queue.”
If you’ve ever seen Mrs Miniver (though the accounts of boat owners piloting their own craft is not correct), you’ll recall the sight of all those small boats steaming toward war without armor or weapons. It makes my heart clutch every time I see it, indeed, I can’t watch it without getting tears in my eyes.
If you’d like to learn more about this amazing event, Escape from Catastrophe: 1940 Dunkirk by David J Knowles, is a heart-wrenching recounting of events and the personal stories of survivors. There are some used copies available online. There is also a long list of Dunkirk books here.
Out of Time was my very small, homage to the Greatest Generation–and to the brave men and women who followed them–to our soldiers, to the thin, blue line of law enforcement and the fire fighters, indeed to everyone who steps up to face danger so that I don’t have to. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Blood and sweat. They were certainly fitting symbols of the harrowing event we were experiencing.
If you had the chance, where would you like to go in time? What event would you most like to see?
Pauline Baird Jones’ amazing dad served in both WWII and Korea. He is part of the Greatest Generation and is the greatest dad. Her website is www.paulinebjones.com
Time Travel to 1940 Dunkirk?